Public Access Counsel Determines Parents Should Request Student-Related E-mails under ISSRA, Not FOIA

By April 4, 2018 News No Comments

On February 13, 2018, the Public Access Counsel, Office of the Attorney General (“PAC”), issued an informal determination letter indicating that a parent’s request for e-mails concerning her/his student should be submitted pursuant to the Illinois School Student Records Act (“ISSRA”), not the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).

The District in this case received a FOIA request by a parent for e-mails regarding his son, his wife, and himself. Under our counsel, the District denied the parent’s request under FOIA because the responsive e-mails contained “individually identifiable student record information.” In the same letter, the District notified the parent that his request was being granted under ISSRA. The District then processed the release of the records under ISSRA. The parent promptly received the responsive e-mails under the timelines prescribed by ISRRA.

The parents, dissatisfied with the District’s denial under FOIA, filed a request for review with the PAC. The PAC determined that Section 5 of ISSRA provides parents with the exclusive right of access to their student’s records and the requested e-mails were “school student records” under ISSRA because they individually identify a student. Because the PAC lacks the authority to resolve disputes under ISSRA, it refused to issue a further inquiry letter.

As we have continuously advised, Districts may properly deny parents’ requests for their students’ records under FOIA.  Notably, the PAC also concludes that e-mails that individually identify students are student records, but of course, the PAC is not the agency charged with interpreting ISSRA.

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